My Favorite Guacamole

Last week the kids and I followed a very dusty dirt road for what felt like a very long time to get to Umtanum Creek Falls. The description online I found for the hike said it was an easy 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with views of a waterfall. What we didn’t know is that we could have driven to Ellensburg by way of the highway and simply taken the dirt road an easy five(ish) miles to our destination but we went the long way from Selah winding up the river canyon on the far west side, driving past ranches and fields and into a forest I had never seen before.

Unfortunately, the trail was dry, steep, full of snakes and where it wasn’t dry and steep it was stinky with stagnant water and very muddy. We ran from a swarm of bees we kicked up and Scarlet, my five-year-old daughter, slipped on a rock and fell straight into a giant muddy bog. We did see the waterfall though and the kids ran along the trail with friends, scrambling over logs and marveling at butterflies, grasshoppers and tiny little frogs they found along the stream.

We stopped for ice cream in Ellensburg on our way home and decided that while the hike itself was a bit of a bust, we were still happy we went.  It’s always good to go on an adventure, even when it involves bees, snakes and mud.

We also concluded that chips and guacamole, ice cold sprites and a margarita for mom was in order as soon as we got home. We were hot, tired and dirty; but nothing some guacamole couldn’t fix.

And lucky for us, I’ve got a killer guacamole recipe. I’m a little bit of a purist in that personally, I don’t prefer onions or tomatoes in my guacamole. I do however like big bright flavor and I get that from a big handful of cilantro, the heat of a jalapeno, fresh chives and lots of lime and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of coarse se salt at the end gives the dip a little crunch and texture and balances out the flavors. If you like a little texture to your guacamole with onions or tomatoes, then use this recipe as a starting point and add what you like to make it perfect for you. But don’t skip the lemon juice, that’s the secret ingredient.

Guacamole

• 4 ripe avocados

• 1/3 cup cilantro, minced

• 3 tablespoons chives, minced

• 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

• Pinch of ground black pepper

In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocados. Add the cilantro, chives and jalapenos. Use a fork to mash down the avocados and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and a pinch of salt. Stir again until the guacamole is smooth and well-combined. Garnish with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

When summer heats up, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven. So let’s not. There’s plenty of delicious food to make without ever going near the oven.

This avocado cilantro sauce is my new go-to dressing for everything. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. I use it to make pasta salad with fresh corn, peppers, onions and feta cheese. We use it as a marinade and then later drizzle it on grilled chicken and flank steak, I even used it as a dip for quesadillas for my kids.

The sauce is an easy salad dressing and a little extra olive oil thins it into a nice vinaigrette. Just load up a bowl with some rotisserie chicken, greens, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado and a hearty drizzle of this dressing and you have an awesome cobb salad. Bright and fresh with a touch of heat and acidity; this avocado cilantro sauce is exactly what you need to make it through the dog days of summer.

I typically make a big batch of sauce at the beginning of the week and store it in my fridge in an air-tight container for at least a couple of days. I use it as needed and try and always make sure to have the ingredients on hand to make more when I run out.

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 1 small walla walla sweet onion

• 2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves (about two bunches)

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1 jalapeno, seeded

• ½ cup olive oil

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 1 avocado

• Juice of 2 limes

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Give the onion, garlic and jalapeno a rough chop. In a food processor, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and avocado. Pulse the ingredients a few times so they begin to break down. Add the red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Turn the food processor back on and while it runs, slowly pour the olive oil in until the ingredients are well-combined, and you get to your desired consistency. I like my sauce on the thinner side, so I use the full half cup of oil but if you like a thicker sauce you can use less.

I’ve tried to grow corn in my garden for years now but somehow every year the bugs win and I am left with a couple ears of sad half-eaten corn. This year, I threw in the towel, corn is four for a dollar at my favorite fruit stand and I’ve never once found a bug. Problem solved.

I needed an easy side dish to go with grilled burgers and this recipe for a riff on street corn ended up being a family favorite. If you don’t feel like grilling your corn on the barbecue, you can always boil the corn cobs in a big pot of salted water for a couple minutes.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Avocado cilantro sauce

• 2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled

• Cilantro leaves

• Salt and pepper

Lightly brush corn with melted butter. Over medium heat, grill corn on the barbecue until the corn is lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat immediately.

On a tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle or generously brush corn with avocado cilantro sauce. Sprinkle the corn with cotija cheese, cilantro leaves and a dash of salt and pepper.

The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

I had a rare and blissful night last week where the only person who needed dinner at my house was me. My kids had bounced from one end-of-the-school-year party to another all afternoon and evening eating their weight in hot dogs and chips. They were so amped up on sugar and their new-found summer freedom they couldn’t be convinced to come in for a real meal. My husband was working late which gave me two options: make something special just for me or skip dinner altogether.

I finally corralled my kids inside, threw them into showers and settled them in front of a movie. I surveyed the kitchen for something to eat and was just about to pour myself a bowl of cereal when the pint of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter caught my eye.

Instantly I knew I wanted to roast the tomatoes in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If I had a loaf of sourdough bread, I probably would have just scooped the tomatoes onto toast and called it dinner. But I didn’t so I went to the next best thing, pasta.

Fifteen minutes later I had a pot of spaghetti noodles tossed with tangy and bright roasted tomatoes. A big pile of chopped basil from the pplant growing on my patio and swirl of goat cheese made for a decadent but light dinner. A little glass of red wine and eating my dinner in (relative) peace outside in the warm evening sunshine made my simple meal absolute perfection.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

  • 8 ounces spaghetti noodles
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons (or more) chopped fresh basil
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven preheats, start a pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. When the water boils, cook spaghetti to package instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tomatoes evenly on the tray. Mince garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to burst and are very fragrant.

In a pot, combine the cooked spaghetti and roasted tomatoes, scraping the pan to add the juices and garlic. Toss gently to combine. Mix in chopped basil and goat cheese. To serve, portion the pasta onto a plate. Garnish with any leftover basil and goat cheese as well as a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

I am officially the mom of big kids. My youngest ‘graduated’ from preschool last week and will attend kindergarten with her brothers at their elementary school in the fall. To say she is excited and ready would be an understatement.

For seven straight years I’ve had at least one preschooler. Most of that time I was also holding a grumpy toddler or wrangling an infant car seat while also attempting to get my preschooler to school. I was the mom with the spilled coffee and spit up on her shirt, just trying to make it through the day hour by hour. Those were some wild years and at times I thought they would never end.

And now suddenly here we are. On to the next season of life. It seems like all those hard and beautiful days were over in the blink of an eye. The more seasoned moms in my life constantly remind me that time only speeds up. I believe them.

I am looking forward to summer break, to soaking up time with my three wild and crazy big kids. I won’t think too much about kindergarten but instead try and squeeze every drop of fun out of our days together. I’m sure as the dog-days of summer catch up to us, school and structure won’t seem like such a bad idea.

After preschool graduation we had a little celebration. I whipped up these special puff pastries stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and thin pieces of asparagus. The buttery and flaky pastry with a rich and savory filling was out-of-this-world delicious. Puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store, usually near the frozen desserts. Simply allow the pastry to thaw on the counter or in your refrigerator until the dough is very cold but not frozen anymore. We made a big bowl of fruit salad to go along with our pastries but this dish could easily be served for lunch or dinner alongside a simple green salad. Served warm or at room temperature, you can swap the filling for whatever kinds of meat or cheese you prefer. Brie, smoke gouda or sharp cheddar are lovely cheeses to try as well.

 

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, cut into 9 squares
  • 4-5 slices Havarti cheese
  • 1 package prosciutto
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly roll out the pastry so the dough is even and has no creases. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 9 squares.

Rinse asparagus and pat dry with a paper towel. Select the thinnest spears and cut them in half. Discard the bottom half the spears and set the tops aside.

To make the puff pastries, layer half a slice of cheese, one slice of prosciutto and two to three spears of asparagus diagonally on the puff pastry. Fold two corners over the filling. Place the pastry on the baking sheet and continue until all nine puff pastry squares have been filled.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with a splash of water until well combined. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pastries with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastries with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes.

When the pastries are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling and melted, they are finished baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before serving.

Hummus with Jalapeño Pesto and Marinated Olive And Feta Salad

Almost like clockwork, every spring, I forget we ever had winter at all and decide with unrelenting enthusiasm that the only things I want to eat are fresh vegetables and berries, preferably grown in my own garden or picked up at the farmer’s market during one of our leisurely Sunday strolls. I look forward to the farmer’s market (and my favorite fruit stand) opening all year long. In the 13 years I’ve called Yakima home, it’s been a regular weekend tradition and somehow signifies to my brain ‘summer is just around the bend.’

This idea, of course, is ridiculously preposterous for multiple reasons, the main one being my garden is hit and miss on its very best year, not to mention not too much is harvest-worthy in May and June. But never mind that. My point is that my adoration for our wonderful agriculturally rich Valley goes into overdrive and only ramps up each month as the sun stays out a little longer, growing and ripening all my favorite things that grow in the dirt.

And while I wait for lovely produce to become readily available, I’ll make batch after batch of easy and delicious hummus. This hummus is smooth and hearty all on its own, perfect for dipping vegetables or pita. Typically made with garbanzo beans, hummus is a versatile Middle Eastern dip and a wonderful canvas to add additional flavors. The cilantro jalapeno pesto I’ve included here is bright and flavorful without being overly spicy. You can add as little or as much of the pesto to the hummus and save the rest for another time. Paired with the smokey, salty and rich olive and feta salad, these dishes can be served together as a hearty appetizer or separately.

One of my favorite ways to serve hummus is to spread it evenly in a shallow dish. I pile toppings high and make sure to have lots of bread for dipping. Last year I was on a cucumber and tomato salad kick but this year my go-to is this olive and feta salad.

Sometimes I’ll toss salad greens like peppery arugula and spinach with a little olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I garnish the entire dish with the salad greens and call it dinner. With a bottle of crisp buttery chardonnay and a loaf of crusty bread, this dinner is the perfect late spring, eat on the patio, watch the sun set behind Mt. Adams meal I can think of.

Hummus

• 2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans

• ½ cup fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup tahini

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic

• Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper

Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving half a cup of the liquid. In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, reserved liquid, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix for a minimum of 2-3 minutes. Add an extra splash of water or lemon juice if the hummus is too thick. When the mixture is very smooth, turn the food processor off and scoop hummus into a bowl. Taste and add an additional pinch of salt if needed.

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto

• 1 bunch cilantro

• ½ bunch parsley

• 2 green onions, trimmed into 1-inch pieces

• 1 jalapeno chili, stem and seeds removed

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• Juice of 1 lime

• Salt

Combine the cilantro, parsley, green onions, jalapeno, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break the herbs and vegetables down. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil and lime juice. When the mixture is well-combined, using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small bowl. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

To serve the hummus and pesto, make an indentation in the center of the hummus. Spoon the pesto into the indentation and swirl gently. Serve with toasted baguette, pita bread or tortilla chips.

Marinated Olive and Feta Salad

• 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

• 1 ½ cups olive oil

• 2 cups mixed Greek olives (drained and pitted)

• 8 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes

• 1/3 cup minced parsley, basil and cilantro (you can use any fresh herbs you prefer)

Place the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet. Heat gently over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring once until the seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add the garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the olives and feta to the bowl and gently stir. Add the fresh herbs and gently stir one more time. Cover with plastic wrap and store up to three days in the refrigerator.

A Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

I know a vegetable sandwich doesn’t exactly scream exciting, but hang in here with me for a moment.  The secret to this sandwich is the absolutely delicious and slightly decadent herbed goat cheese spread you make. Excellent on this sandwich, you can find many other ways to use it. Case in point: the day I put this recipe together, we had steak for dinner. Guess what was out of this world delicious as a dollop on our steaks? Herbed goat cheese spread. It was great on our baked potatoes and my kids used it as a dip for their cucumbers too. I’m telling you, if you don’t want to make the sandwich, no problem, but don’t skip the spread. You’ll find lots of uses for it.

But back to the recipe, personally, I love a good sandwich. And this one checks all the boxes: crunchy, creamy, full of flavor and good for you.  Toasted sourdough bread is liberally spread with herbed goat cheese spread. From there, layers of thinly sliced red bell pepper, shredded carrot, sliced English cucumber, tomato, radish and spinach leaves get piled high. A generous sprinkle of black pepper and the sandwich is complete. Of course, you could swap out vegetables for what you have on hand or are in the mood for. Just slice your vegetables thinly so they are easy to layer. And if you need a little turkey or chicken thrown in to make those vegetables a little more appetizing, by all means, do it.

I signed up with Pacific Northwest Fresh a few weeks ago. Locally owned here in Yakima, each week Pacific Northwest Fresh delivers a box of produce right to your doorstep. During the warmer seasons all the produce featured in the weekly boxes comes from family-owned farms from the Yakima Valley. With the flexibility to sign up week to week as well as choose from three different sized boxes, I look forward to Thursday’s when I know my box will be delivered.

These weekly deliveries are accomplishing two important things for me: the first is that I’m eating more local fruit and vegetables and the second is I’m forced (slightly) out of my comfort zone by having ingredients on hand that I wouldn’t necessarily choose at the grocery store. (Anybody have a good collard greens recipe??) It’s just the nudge I need to experiment with new flavors.

Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

  • 2 slices sourdough or multi-grain bread
  • Spinach
  • English cucumber
  • Carrot
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Radish
  • Tomato
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, minced
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

In a medium bowl combine goat cheese, heavy cream, parsley, basil, and lemon zest. Use a spatula to stir ingredients until they are well-incorporated. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Taste to make sure you like the flavor and add more salt or herbs if desired.

To make the sandwich, start by thinly slicing the vegetables so they are roughly the same thickness. Consider shredding the carrot with a box grater.

Toast the bread. Spread the herbed goat cheese liberally on both sides of the bread. Layer the vegetables on one piece of bread. Sprinkle with black pepper and top with the other slice of bread, goat cheese side down. Press gently down on the sandwich to help combine the ingredients and using a sharp knife, slice the sandwich in half.

Store the remaining goat cheese spread in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to up to 3 days. This recipe will make up to six sandwiches or ingredients can be stored in the refrigerator to make one sandwich at a time.